It’s no secret, we have an aging population. Our society has been discussing and planning for the “grey wave” for over a decade now. However, when we talk about aging and dying rarely do we consider the prison population. Often when prisons come up in polite conversation it is about prison overcrowding, or people are frustrated with the justice system for one reason or another. But rarely is there a discussion about aging and dying in a prison hospice. Of course, there are many reasons for this, but the most common I hear is “oh, I have never really thought about that”.
It’s true, most people don’t give thought to inmates once the trial is over and the door has been locked behind them. But the reality is, there is a whole community of individuals behind bars that will grow old and pass away in the system. You may be asking yourself at this point, “but why should we care??”
My case for prison hospice is two-fold. The first is financial and the second is humanitarian. Let’s look at why it is financially important to consider this population. Tax payer dollars pay for prison health care. It is our responsibility as per the laws, rights and regulations of our country to assure that the basic health care needs are met for every prisoner. Let’s face it, most people who are in prison probably didn’t participate in their community wellness programs prior to their incarceration. When you throw in the reality of drug usage and mental illness, these folks were not the picture of health upon their arrival to prison. As we age, these choices early in life can, and often do, come back and manifest themselves in various diseases, aches, pains and general poor health. This leads to more complicated health cases and disease that cannot be treated in the prison infirmary. Each time an inmate needs to go to an “outside” source for health care it costs the tax payer the following: 1. Cost of transportation of the inmate 2. Cost of overtime for 1-2 (or more depending on the custody level) prison personnel to accompany the inmate to the appointment. 3. The cost of the appointment or any hospital stay 4. The cost of any pharmaceuticals prescribed that may not be on the regular prison formulary 5. The cost of transportation back to the facility. For inmates with chronic disease or a chronic need these visits can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per inmate per month.
If we were to allow inmates the choice to cease medical treatment and opt for hospice care, the potential to save taxpayer dollars is enormous. With an increasing aging inmate population, finding ways to create savings within the prison healthcare systems without decreasing the required amount of care the state and federal governments are required to provide is paramount to keeping our prison system stable and viable.
The second side of the case for increased prison hospice programs is a humanitarian one. Despite what one may have done in their past, no one should die alone. I realize this can be a tough concept as many people have a hard time feeling sorry for inmates. But what if I judged you on the worst thing you had ever done, for the rest of your life. Sure, you may not have committed a crime like some of the people in prison have, but who is to say they haven’t aged and become wiser, different people? Are you the same person you were in your teens? 20’s? 30s? Neither are they. This is not to say that everyone in prison has or will change, but on the flip side, some have. Do they not deserve dignity in death?
Either way you consider this, financially or in a humanitarian way, people on the “outside” should care about how those who are incarcerated are being served by our tax dollars as well as by the people who care for them within prison walls.
As Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “ A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.”